The Giallo Films of Umberto Lenzi

Umberto Lenzi was born on 6 August 1931 in the Massa Marittima province of Italy. Lenzi was a film enthusiast as early as grade school. While studying law, Lenzi also created film fan clubs. Lenzi eventually put off studying law and began pursuing the technical arts of filmmaking.

He graduated from Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in 1956 and made I ragazzi di Trastevere as his final exam, a short film influenced by the writings of Pier Paolo Pasolini. Lenzi also worked as a journalist for various newspapers and magazines, including Bianco e Nero and, between 1957 and 1960, penned a number of detective novels and adventure stories using a pseudonym.

Lenzi has always claimed to be inspired by the news for his crime films (and not) is Umberto Lenzi . Compared to the filmmakers considered so far, Lenzi represents a special case. Among the inventors of the sexy thriller of the sixties, Lenzi approaches the thriller of the seventies with some perplexity, especially because of the stories entrusted to him.

It starts with Orgasmo (1969) Kathryn West, a glamorous American widow, arrives in Italy several weeks after the death of her older, extremely wealthy husband. With the help of Brian, her lawyer, Kathryn moves into a luxurious villa and proceeds to lead a lonely, uneventful existence until one day, a handsome young man named Peter Donovan shows up at the front gate, looking for tools so that he can fix his sports car. Kathryn lets him stay the night, and the next thing she knows, she is madly making love to him in the shower. Peter eventually moves in and is soon joined by a free spirit who he introduces as Eva, his sister. Kathryn enjoys their company and partying with them – until she begins to suspect that Peter and Eva are not what they seem to be, after catching them in bed together. Their relationship turns into a threesome, and when she begins to rebel against them, they keep her a prisoner in the house, doping her up with booze and pills, and depriving her of sleep by continuously playing a maddening pop song (“Anytime”). Kathryn suspects that they are setting her up as a “suicide” for some nefarious reason.

“Dario is very good at what he does, and I like to think that a tiny bit of his talent has my name stamped on it. He wrote one of my earlier films Battle of the Commandos (1969) and was always roaming about the set on Orgasmo. Those were the good times,” he recalls. “I shot some of my best films during the giallo explosion. – Umberto Lenzi

Umberto Lenzi, Carroll Baker & Jean-Louis Trintignant during the filming of So Sweet… So Perverse (1969)

Next for the Baker/Lenzi team was So Sweet… So Perverse (1969) Jean, a rich Parisian socialite, comes to the aid of a frightened young woman (Nicole) who lives in the apartment below him who is under the domineering control of her abusive boyfriend, Klaus. Although he is married, Jean develops a romantic relationship with Nicole, not realizing that she and Klaus are involved in a plot to murder Jean for a $20,000.00 payoff. Nicole eventually falls in love with their intended victim, but Klaus kills Jean and burns his body in a car, making it look like he died in an accident. It transpires that Jean’s wife Danielle conspired with Nicole to kill her rich husband, but when she begins to feel remorse, Nicole’s ingenious plan moves into gear.

The masterful Ernesto Gastaldi wrote his screenplay from a short story by the producer Luciano Martino and Massimo D’Avak. D’Avak who would write with Francesco Barilli Who saw her die by Aldo Lado? (Who Saw Her Die?) 1972 and Lenzi’s first cannibal film, The Land of Wild Sex (1972). Two years later D’Avak and Barilli will write the screenplay for Barilli’s debut film, ‎The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)

Executive producer Sergio Martino may have worked side by side with Ernesto Gastaldi on some great films prior to this one, but it would have been the series of magnificent films they would have made between 1971 and 1975 under the direction of Martino that would have been their cornerstone. milestone together.

One of the interesting things about this film is the opening sequence. It begins with the Ortolani soundtrack, this time in its themed version with lyrics by Norman Newell who wrote the text of the hit Ortolani More by Mondo Cane 1962, and sung by J. Vincent Edwards. Time is fast, showing Jean Reynaud and Trintignant driving his yellow car through the streets of Paris – so once again the space of the film is used for the opening credits.

Finally the trilogy came to a end with A Quiet Place to Kill (1970) Helen, a race-car driver whose life, both personal and professional, is in a rapid downfall, is invited by her ex-husband Maurice’s new wife Constance to stay at their plush estate. The two women form a bond, and it is not long before their mutual dislike for the husband culminates into a plan to kill him. Their plan to murder Maurice on a sailing trip goes awry, and Constance is accidentally killed instead. Helen and her ex seize the moment and dispose of Constance’s corpse at sea, but when the dead woman’s daughter Susan arrives, the young lady begins to suspect that her mother has been murdered.

Oasis of Fear (1971) Two pornography-peddling hippies from Italy (Richard and Ingrid) run out of material to sell, so they start taking “dirty pictures” of each other to add to their stock of smut. While on the run from the authorities in Sweden, the pair get invited to the home of a middle-aged woman named Barbara, the wife of a NATO colonel. She involves them first in sexual games, then later in a convoluted murder plot. It seems Barbara has murdered her husband and hidden the body in the trunk of her car, and she gets the idea to frame the two hippies for the crime

Lenzi said he had trouble getting actress Irene Papas to participate in the threesome scene that takes place in the film. The cast, as stuntman, also included Antonio Mellino , aka “Agostino o’Pazzo”, who, in the 1970s, had risen to the headlines for his daring exploits against the police and the carabinieri, made the subject of mockery and ridicule from the fact that he was being chased around the city of Naples at breakneck speeds and without being caught. Precisely because of his exploits, the director wanted him as a stuntman in the film.

Lead actor Ray Lovelock sings a song called “How Can You Live Your Life?” over the opening titles, accompanied by a sitar; a song that reoccurs throughout the film in different versions, supposedly with the purpose of trying to capture the “feel” of the 1960s hippie scene.

Baker/Lenzi reunited with Knife of Ice (1972) A famous singer, Jenny Ascot (Evelyn Stewart), visits her cousin Martha Caldwell (Carroll Baker) at her home in the Pyrenees. Caldwell has long been rendered mute after witnessing both her parents being killed in a train crash. While Ascot and Caldwell are travelling to Caldwell’s home, they notice a strange man who seems to be following them. That night, at Caldwell’s villa, Ascot hears noises coming from the garage, and when she investigates, is killed by an unseen figure.

The police believe the killing is connected to the murder of a teenage girl hours before, and their prime suspect is a local hippy they are convinced is a drug-addicted Satanist. However, two more murders occur while this suspect is in custody. Several other locals are placed under suspicion, including a doctor (Franco Fantasia), a chauffeur (Eduardo Fajardo) and an occultist (George Rigaud). Eventually the man who Caldwell and Ascot saw following them is arrested, and the police discover that his girlfriend had been found murdered several days earlier. However, after this man is taken into custody, Caldwell’s friend Christina is also murdered, prompting police to reopen the investigation. After they find that their suspect’s girlfriend had died of a drug overdose, rather than being murdered, it eventually comes to light that the killer is Caldwell herself. She had killed Ascot out of jealousy of her singing voice, which piqued her interest in murder, and resurfaced to kill Christina when the girl had discovered evidence linking Caldwell to the crimes.

Lenzi would also go on to cast Ida Galli—credited here as Evelyn Stewart—in Syndicate Sadists (1975) and The Biggest Battle (1978). The film’s use of Satanists as initial suspects has been compared to Lucio Fulci’s film Don’t Torture a Duckling, also released in 1972. Which features frequent use of close-up shots of characters’ eyes, which has also been noted as a “Fulci trademark”.

Lenzi continued with another gialli Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972) A serial killer is on the loose, murdering certain women around the city. While travelling on a train on his honeymoon, Mario (Antonio Sabato) sees his wife brutally attacked aboard the train and after the killer gets away, the police accuse Mario of attacking his newlywed wife. The Police decide to hide the fact that Giulia (Uschi Glas), Mario’s wife is alive in order to protect her from the killer. Mario sets out to prove his innocence by attempting to solve the “Puzzle of the Silver Half Moons”, which leads him to the hotel where he met his wife, a man named Frank Saunders, Christian Church’s tour, a group of hippies, and Frank’s ex-mistress. The film contains some very violent murders, some shown from the point of view of the knife-wielding, black-gloved killer, as he stabs a woman in her bed, bashes in the head of a prostitute, strangles a female artist with a telephone cord, drowns a mental patient in her bathtub, and even uses a power drill on one unfortunate victim. Mario must catch the real killer in order to prove his own innocence and save his wife.

Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, which was originally supposed to be called The Wide-eyed in the Dark , written together with Felix Tuselland shot by Lenzi with a steady hand (even if with some flaws, like the revealing photo of the murderer), it can be traced back to Dario Argento’s cinema; both for what concerns the homicidal madness that pushes the murderer to strike (still a childhood trauma), and for the crimes committed with extreme crudeness of detail (notable removal of the eyeball), and for the representation of the maniac with the black leather gloves.  

The score in the film by Riz Ortolani borrows liberally from his previous scores, including So Sweet…So Perverse and Perversion Story. The appearance of German actress Uschi Glas was imposed on by the German co-producers, who promoted the film as both a krimi film and an Edgar Wallace adaptation.

Towards the 1970s, Umberto Lenzi began focusing his attention on poliziotteschi films and his contributions to making gialli began to deteriorate.  Spasmo (1974) A young couple on their nightly hormonal romp decide to go to the beach, where they first meet a mysterious man who is parked there. After asking for a light, the couple make their way to some nearby ruins, where in the midst of their passion, they discover a hanging woman. Upon investigation, it turns out to be a brutalized mannequin. The mysterious man peels off in his car before they can ask him questions.

Enter couple number two, Christian and a first girlfriend, who also decide the beach is a good place for a little afternoon delight. They too come upon a woman’s body – this time face down, just above the surf. However, it turns out she is a real person, who is in fact not dead. Introducing herself as Barbara and not really explaining how she got there, she quickly disappears while Christian is distracted. Despite seemingly being involved with the girl he is there with, Christian cannot seem to get Barbara out of his mind. He finds a flask with the word ‘Tucania’ written on it. Christian tracks it to a boat with the same name, harbored in a local marina. He and his girlfriend join a party aboard the boat, where they encounter Barbara and her current lover, Alex.

Christian abandons his girlfriend and leaves the party with Barbara, upsetting Alex. They drive through a wooded area, where they see lingerie-clad mannequins hanging. The couple wind up back at Barbara’s motel. Christian tells Barbara about a terrible childhood incident with his father, and Barbara explains that Alex is not her boyfriend but more of a provider. After some flirtation, Barbara makes an odd request: Christian must shave his beard before the two have sex; he complies. As Christian shaves in the bathroom, he hears a noise outside. He pokes his head out of the open window and is assaulted by a man with a gun. The man, Tatum, enters the bathroom and threatens Christian. A brief struggle ensues wherein Tatum is shot and killed. Christian leaves the bathroom and tells Barbara everything. Strangely at ease with the concept of a dead man in her room, she convinces Christian that the best thing to do is run. The pair go to a friend’s place, a seaside castle and lighthouse.

Christian insists that his brother Fritz can help, but Barbara insists that no one can. The arguing pair are interrupted by squatters Malcolm and Clorinda; the former taunts Christian with a story about a local murder. Believing that information about Tatum’s death has reached the news, Christian admits that he is the killer, but Malcolm explains that he was just joking. Confused, Christian retires for the night. Clorinda tells Christian that he knows her, and a possibly hallucinatory rape scene ensues. Christian then goes downstairs to see Barbara. The next day, she is gone. Christian searches her motel room, where there is neither a body nor any weapon, and then heads to the marina where there is no boat and he is followed by an ominous man. Ultimately he goes back to the tower, where he sees Malcolm talking to that same man, Luca. Increasingly going out of his mind, Christian travels to the marina, and finds his boat anchor missing. Christian spends the rest of the day in the tower. That night, he thinks he sees Tatum on the grounds. Making his way down, he discovers Malcolm dead. Christian leaves in a panic, catching a brief glimpse of an arm at the bottom of the well.

Desperate for a safe place, Christian goes to his original girlfriend’s apartment. After spending the night there, he is accosted by Tatum, who is very much alive. Tatum forces him to drive to a quarry, revealing along the way that the plan was not supposed to involve killing him – just driving him crazy – but since he is being stubborn about it, he has to die. Attempting to make it look like an accident, Tatum has him drive to the edge of the cliff and exits the car. Quickly turning the tables on Tatum, Christian reverses the car, smacking Tatum with the open door and running him over twice. Realizing that there is a conspiracy against him, Christian switches clothes with Tatum, puts his necklace around Tatum’s neck, shoves the dead body in the car, and pushes it off the cliff.

Barbara and Luca arrive to make sure that ‘Christian’ is dead. As they leave, Christian follows them back to his family’s factory, currently being run by his brother Fritz. It is revealed that Tatum was right — the plan was to drive Christian mad so that he has no claim on the family fortune. Barbara reveals that she has fallen for Christian and is sick of both Luca and Fritz because Christian was not supposed to die. But the two men are satisfied, and tell her to just go along with it. Christian wanders the roads, disguising himself as a male prostitute and getting picked up by a female client.

After leaving the factory, Luca and Barbara are planning their getaway. Christian interrupts them and reveals that he knows about the plot. Barbara admits to everything. The two reconcile and make plans to escape. As the pair lovingly make up, Christian begins to see Clorinda’s face, his ex-girlfriend’s face and the random woman who picked him up for prostitution. He chokes Barbara to death and runs away. Meanwhile, Fritz has investigated the car crash and figures out that it is not Christian’s body in the wreckage. Retreating to his mansion, he decides to indulge in some old family movies. As he is watching them, it is revealed that Christian had mental problems as a child, and that his father’s lunacy is hereditary. As he hears that, he begins to have flashbacks. It is revealed that Clorinda was the nurse at the psychiatric hospital and that Malcolm was the doctor. Additionally, it is shown that he has killed Clorinda after the potential rape and dumped her in the well, that he killed the ex-girlfriend, the random woman in the car and Barbara. Alex shoots him, fatally wounding him, but Christian manages to run away. As he bleeds out, Christian makes his way back to the beach where he originally found Barbara, and dies.

Fritz wanders home, and makes his way to a closet full of lingerie-clad mannequins, all with puncture marks and other disfigurements. As he slowly makes his way to a particular mannequin, we hear the voice-over again telling us that the insanity is hereditary, as he repeatedly stabs the mannequin, releasing his pent up rage and craziness.

Eyeball (1975) A group of Americans on a trip to Barcelonahe suddenly finds himself involved in a series of heinous crimes in which an unknown murderer stabs young women whose left eye he tears. The police suspect, after long groping in the dark, that the murderer is the publicist Mark Burton, a lover of Miss Paulette Stone. The man, for his part, believes that his wife Alma, who has long been ill with nerves, is responsible for the murders. To discover the truth, with the help of a photo taken by one of the victims, is a young lesbian, Naiba. The murderer, since it is a woman who is involved, is Paulette: without an eye lost in an accident, she kills to “avenge” her inferiority. Finding face to face with her, Naiba is about to suffer the fate of the other women, but the police intervene in extremis, killing Paulette.

“On Eyeball, for instance, we had no money at all, the film was shot in Barcelona with a very small crew, and I never got to meet the producer! There were times when we had to go to bed without dinner. Nevertheless, it’s still a good film.” – Umberto Lenzi

After a run of successful cannibal/adventure films, Lenzi attempted to return to the genre with Nightmare Beach (1989) Umberto Lenzi, originally hired to direct, had a falling out with the producer just as production started and wanted to be taken off the film. He stated a 1996 interview that he found the story “too similar to [his earlier film] Seven Blood-Stained Orchids” and decided before shooting began that his name would not appear on the film. Screenwriter Harry Kirkpatrick (also known as James Justice) was given the job of directing, and received sole directorial credit, though he convinced Lenzi to remain on the set in an uncredited advisory capacity throughout the entire production. For years, many horror film fans thought Harry Kirkpatrick was an alias for Lenzi, but Lenzi has stated in interviews that there really was a Harry Kirkpatrick who wrote and co-directed that film. He explained, “My contribution consisted solely of providing technical assistance. Welcome to Spring Break should be considered the work of Harry Kirkpatrick.”. Italian film historian Roberto Curti stated later that Lenzi directed the film and refused to sign to it leading the credit to be assigned to Harry Kirkpatrick.

Diablo, the leader of the Demons motorcycle gang, is about to be executed for the murder of a young woman. Confronting the victim’s sister Gail (Sarah Buxton), he proclaims his innocence and vows to return before being killed via electric chair. A year passes and Spring Break has come to Miami. Two football players, Skip (Nicolas de Toth) and Ronny (Rawley Valverde) are amongst the partygoers for the week-long festivities.

While Spring Break is occurring, a mysterious biker appears and begins to dispatch people. The back of his bike has a lever that when pulled (combined with a button pushed by the biker) causes the victim to undergo a treatment similar to the electric chair. When Ronny ends up a victim of the mysterious killer, Skip attempts to find Ronny with the help of Gail, who works as a bartender during Spring Break. The duo soon find Ronny and learn that local police chief Strycher (John Saxon) and physician Doc Willet (Michael Parks) have covered up Ronny’s death in order for the partygoers not to worry. However, as the body count rises, Gail and Skip begin to wonder if Diablo made good on his promise to return from the dead or is someone else responsible. Meanwhile, Trina, Diablo’s girlfriend, is relaxing at the gang’s old hideout. She puts headphones on and is listening to music when a figure appears. She assumes it’s Diablo back from the dead. It’s not until he grabs her violently that she realizes it’s not. Trina is slammed on the couch and then the biker pulls a live wire out of the wall, and attaches it to Trina’s headphones. Volts of electricity run through Trina’s body, killing her slowly, and painfully.

A confrontation at a local tire yard between Gail and the biker reveals that the killer is Reverend Bates (Lance Le Gault), who thinks Spring Break is nothing more than an excuse for sins. Considering himself a “guardian angel”, he feels all sinners must die like Diablo, “death by electrocution”. Bates also confesses to being the real killer of Gail’s sister. Skip arrives in time and fights off Bates. As the duo run, Bates hops on his bike and goes after them only to trip his bike on a stray tire. Bates goes off the bike onto an electric field and like those he murdered and Diablo, dies by electrocution. The next day, Skip and Gail decide to leave Florida and head to Ohio, where Skip hails from.

Hitcher in the Dark (1989) Mark Glazer is a boy who travels in a campervan , given to him by his father, along the roads of Virginia , United States . From a ride to a hitchhiker headed to Norfolk and, shortly thereafter, kills her inside his camper. After photographing him with a Polaroid , he disposes of the body by feeding it to alligators in a swamp near Charleston .

Arriving at a seaside resort, Mark heads to a campsite and there he notices a girl who is dancing and celebrating with some friends. Mark follows her into a bar where she argues with Kevin, her boyfriend, whom Mark had met earlier. The next morning the girl leaves her party and the campsite and Mark, who has followed her, offers her a ride.

On the way, the two meet. The girl says her name is Daniela. Mark, surprised, shows her a photo of a Russian woman also called Daniela (Danicka in Russian) and who lives in Moscow . The two women are very similar. Daniela, after noticing some strange behaviors of Mark, would like to get out of the camper but she realizes that at that moment her boyfriend is arriving with his off-road vehicle and, to avoid it, she decides to remain hidden in the camper and to continue the journey with Mark . To make her relax Mark offers her a cold drink which, however, turns out to be cut with a sleeping pill. Daniela quickly faints.

Upon awakening Daniela discovers she is handcuffed in the camper. The girl with a ruse manages to get the handcuffs removed and takes possession of a gun she noticed shortly before. Daniela shoots Mark but discovers that the gun is loaded with blanks. Daniela still manages to free herself and get out of the camper. He heads to a phone booth from where he calls his sister Beth for help but Mark finds her and kidnaps her again.

Kevin, on the trail of Daniela, calls Beth and discovers that the girl has been kidnapped. Beth warns Kevin that the police do not believe in the kidnapping and will therefore not take the case. Kevin then decides to do it himself. Kevin then meets some friends from the campsite and one of them claims he saw Daniela get into a camper the day before.

Meanwhile, Mark and Daniela are secluded by the sea. Mark insists on calling Daniela by the name of Danicka. Daniela tries to escape again, injuring Mark with a fork but the boy manages to block her and handcuff her again. Realizing that a police patrol is about to check the camper, Mark gags Daniela and administers a sedative. The cops, suspicious at first, sympathize with Mark when they discover that Mark is the son of a wealthy hotel owner and let him go. Once in a forest, Mark cuts and dyes Daniela’s hair to make her look even more like the woman in the photo. Mark reveals to Daniela that Danicka was his mother and that she left him when she was only ten, returning to Russia. Daniela decides to give herself to Mark but this proves helpless.

Meanwhile, Kevin tracks a camper identical to Mark’s but discovers it belongs to a dock worker. However, he manages to obtain information about the camper he is looking for from a gas station attendant and, thanks to the detail of the mirrored glasses given to him by the man, he also manages to understand who exactly the kidnapper is.

Mark wants to celebrate his twenty-second birthday and Daniela willingly accepts and offers him her friendship in exchange for his freedom. Mark accepts but asks the girl to wear a red dress that belonged to her mother. After Daniela recounts her sentimental past, Mark, in the throes of a fit of jealousy, abruptly interrupts dinner and orders the girl to go to sleep. During the night Daniela discovers the photos of the girls killed by Mark. The following morning Mark refuses to respect the agreements and does not release the girl: he knows that the girl has discovered the Polaroids and fears that he will report him to the police. Mark decides to leave but discovers that the camper’s battery is dead and goes to a mechanic. There he catches a glimpse of Kevin’s off-road vehicle and discovers that this

During Mark’s absence, a thief steals Daniela’s portable CD player from the camper without noticing the girl’s presence inside. The thief goes to Virginia Beach where he tries to sell the stolen goods during a party but meets Kevin who recognizes the portable player, buys it back and lets the thief tell him where he found it. The thief accompanies him to the place where the camper is parked. Mark, hiding behind some trees, watches Kevin enter the camper. Kevin manages to free the girl and confronts Mark, easily beating him. The two run away but Mark chases them with his camper. Mark, armed with a 9 caliber pistol, manages to block the two boys and kidnap them both. During his captivity, Mark tortures Kevin and tries to rape Daniela. Also, Mark states that Kevin looks a lot like the person his mother ran away with.

Mark, drunk and on drugs, goes to a drive-in to see a comedy movie. During the screening Mark and Kevin have a fight and Mark kills the opponent but nobody pays attention to the screams of the boys because they are too busy with the film. The next morning Mark narrowly avoids a search at a checkpoint and decides to hide from a junkyard . Now disappointed by Daniela, he decides to get rid of both Kevin’s body and the girl’s body, hiding them in the trunk of some abandoned cars.

Mark returns to his father but, after hearing on the news of the discovery of Kevin’s body, he warns him that he will stay for a short time because he wants to “take a long trip in a camper to the coast”. Mark resumed the journey from a ride to a girl, he goes away to be able to kill her but discovers that the hitchhiker is none other than Daniela. The girl, lucid and determined, kills her tormentor.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s